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Behavioral Activation for Teens

Behavioral Activation for Teens

According to Oxford Medicine “Behavioral activation (BA) is an empirically based psychotherapy for depression that improves systems by increasing a client’s contact with sources of positive reinforcement by making behavioral changes.” This behavioral psychotherapy approach was initially developed in the 1970s by Peter M. Lewinsohn and colleagues. They viewed depression as a behavioral issue rather than a cognitive issue, arising from a lack of positive reinforcement, particularly in social relationships. Hence, they believed that the most effective method of treatment for depression was to “restore an adequate schedule of positive reinforcement for the individual by changing the patient’s behavior and/ or the environment.” Depression is one of the most common mental health illnesses that teenagers experience. It is normal for young people to feel overwhelmed, anxious, and upset, at times, but when those emotions become debilitating, he or she may be struggling with more than just typical teenage angst. Depression is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as major depressive disorder, and is sometimes referred to as clinical depression. It is characterized by persistent and intrusive depressive moods, and/ or a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities resulting in significant impairment in daily life. Fortunately, there are countless therapeutic methods to help a teenager learn effective symptom management strategies and healthy coping mechanisms to navigate depression. 

Behavioral Activation Basics

Behavioral activation is more thoroughly explained as “a structured, brief psychotherapeutic approach that aims to (a) increase engagement in adaptive activities (which often are those associated with the experience of pleasure or mastery), (b) decrease engagement in activities that maintain depression or increase risk for depression, and (c) solve problems that limit access to reward or that maintain or increase aversive control.” There are a variety of techniques used in behavioral activation with teenagers, some of them include the following examples:

  • Self-monitoring of activities and mood
  • Activity scheduling
  • Activity structuring
  • Problem-solving
  • Social skill training
  • Hierarchy construction (ranking how easy certain activities are to accomplish)
  • Shaping (training healthy behaviors)
  • Reward
  • Persuasion
  • Behavior contract (signing a contract with friends and family so that they will only reinforce healthy behaviors)
  • Life area assessment (determining in which areas of life one desire success)

Behavioral activation is a behavioral treatment that targets patterns of avoidance and cultivates opportunities for positive reinforcement. It focuses on behavioral changes in a young person’s daily life to increase positive awareness. Teenagers are encouraged to develop personal short, medium, and long-term goals to minimize behaviors that feed into depression.

For Information and Support

Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know needs mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person for the long term. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives.

Our admissions team is available to answer any general questions regarding mental health issues, treatment, and/or specific questions about the program at Pacific Teen Treatment and how we might be able to help your family. We can be reached by phone 24/7 at 800-531-5769. You can also contact us via email at

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